Champions League Preview: Barcelona – Stuttgart

Barcelona haven’t looked as good or generally efficient as they were in 2008-09 but Pep Guardiola’s side still remain arguably the best club team in the world. This campaign the Blaugrana have stuttered at times and have been unconvincing on some occasions but they still remain the team to beat in the Champions League.
At the moment Barcelona are second in the SpanishPrimera Division, having garnered 65 points from 26 matches. The Blaugrana are level on points with arch rivals Real Madrid at the top but have an inferior goal difference. On Sunday evening the defending Spanish and European champions struggled in the first half against Valencia in a crucial league fixture at Camp Nou. They recovered marvellously in the second session to win 3-0, thanks to a breathtaking Lionel Messi hat-trick, the first goal being a genuine contender for goal of the season.
However, Barcelona shouldn’t get too complacent as they take on Stuttgart at home on Wednesday evening. The Blaugrana actually struggled in the first leg in Germany and were lucky to have come home with a 1-1 draw. The scoreline would have looked rather untidy for the Catalans had Stuttgart taken the chances that fell their way, especially in the first half. Last season at a similar stage Barca drew 1-1 with Lyon away and defeated them 5-2 at home in the return leg. So Pep Guardiola’s side will be confident of achieving a similar result and actually that away goal does put the hosts in the driving seat for this tie.

Redeeming Themselves

Stuttgart started the 2009-10 campaign in disastrous fashion as, under the charge of Markus Babbel, die Schwaben won just twice of their opening 15 matches in the German Bundesliga. But since the appointment of Christian Gross, the German side have improved superbly and are currently ninth in the table with 35 points from 26 matches.

Moreover, Stuttgart have regained their confidence in the Champions League and in spite of only just managing qualification for the knockout stages from a rather weak group, they have started to play some good, organised football. Stuttgart held Barcelona to a 1-1 draw in the first leg of their Round of 16 tie three weeks ago, but they should know that had they taken the plethora of chances that fell their way, they could have actually won the game.

However, Stuttgart will be confident of creating a shock at Camp Nou on Wednesday evening. Most people are writing them off as Barcelona do have a formidable home record, but die Roten have not lost on their travels in Europe this campaign. Also, as they demonstrated in the first leg, they do have a good organised attack line that can destabilise a rather nervy Barcelona defensive unit.

TEAM NEWS

Barcelona

Thierry Henry has returned to action as he featured against Valencia at the weekend andZlatan Ibrahimovic will also be back for Wednesday’s encounter after missing out on the weekend game due to suspension. Eric Abidal is training once more but Maxwell is likely to stay on as the left-back for Barcelona.

Probable Line-up (4-3-3):
Valdes, Alves, Puyol, Pique, Maxwell; Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta; Messi, Ibrahimovic, Henry

Stuttgart

The Germans will have central defender Matthieu Delpierre back while Stefano Celozzi has returned to full training following illness.

Probable Line-up (4-4-2): Lehmann; Celozzi, Tasci, Delpierre, Molinaro; Gebhart, Kuzmanovic, Khedira, Hleb; Cacau, Pogrebnyak


PLAYERS TO WATCH


Lionel Messi (Barcelona)

Messi scored a sensational hat-trick against Valencia on Sunday evening and now has 22 goals and nine assists in 23 matches in the Spanish Primera Division. The 22-year-old Argentine international also has struck twice in the Champions League and he will be Stuttgart’s main headache on Wednesday night. There is a sneaking suspicion that Barcelona’s midfield and attacking players have not been as potent as they were last campaign, and indeed it has been reflected in some of the performances of the Blaugrana. However, when it comes to Messi, he still remains the best and most talented player in the world and his movements and genius down the right will be crucial for the hosts.

Cacau (Stuttgart)

The Brazilian was in sensational form the last time the two sides met as he scored the opener against Barcelona and had a couple of very good chances. The 28-year-old has been a revelation in the Bundesliga this campaign and has been among the goals. Barcelona’s defence hasn’t really been good this time around and they have been showing a few cracks at the back. The likes of Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique will have to devote some special attention to the Brazilian’s movement in and around the penalty area.


PREDICTION

Barcelona do have a better team on paper and the away goal in Stuttgart should have put them in the driving seat. However, their backline has not really looked world class and coach Pep Guardiola will have to see that they do not concede an early goal. But it should be a comfortable victory for the Blaugrana in the end.

Barcelona Win Over 1 Goal

(GC/MG/rex)
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